National Sections of the L5I:

Spain: Victory to the miners of Asturias and León

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The Spanish Government of the right-wing Partido Popular, having attacked the Spanish public education and health systems, is now focused on completely liquidating the national coal mining industry, which today still employs directly more than 8,000 miners, and indirectly another 30,000 workers.

The largest miners' trade unions, sections of the UGT and CCOO, called four strikes against this in May, these were a complete success in terms of mobilising support and closing the mines; when no response came from the government they declared an all out, indefinite strike.

The cuts of more than 60 per cent in subsidies to the mines would mean almost immediate closure of most if not all the pits and are presented by the government as an EU requirement.

In fact, the EU is demanding that Spain end all the subsidies by 2018, but the Spanish Government has decided to end them before then because they have no intention at all of investing in research and development. It is simpler and cheaper to buy coal from other countries where workers work in even worse conditions. However, Spain is still blaming the EU for the urgency of the cuts.

The €450 million cuts will mean savings of around 90 times less than Spain is borrowing from the EU in order to save Bankia, the fourth largest bank in the country, recently created by merging the second and third largest old public savings banks in Spain, the Caja de Madrid and Caja de Valencia (both from strong right wing areas).

All out resistance

The strike became an unlimited one on June 1st, when 10,000 miners and other workers marched in Madrid, many were beaten by the police. Some miners have barricaded themselves inside the mines, and some are also on hunger strike.

The struggle of the miners has become more and more radical, especially in Asturias and Leon. The miners have erected barricades and set them on fire. They have repeatedly blocked major roads and railways. The police response has been simply brutal.

Also, general strikes of all workers have been called in the mining districts; the one on June 18th was a major success, when many cities of Asturias and Leon were completely stopped.
The strike was organised by the mining federations of the mass trade unions, but also by the smaller, but more active, mining sectorial unions, and was backed by many far left organisations and groups and the Indignados.

Many of the latter commented how easy it was for the police to smash the 15-M and other mobilisations, but how their "ardour" cooled when faced with hundreds of miners.

In fact, special riot forces, the hated Guardia Civil (the brutal paramilitary political police of the Franco dictatorship) were called in to remove the barricades. The fighting has been fierce, with tear gas and villages literally occupied by the police, while the miners responded with flares, rockets and even dynamite.

Much of official Spanish society has expressed shock at such violence; "forgetting" that these workers now have little to lose. Forgetting, too, the historic uprising of the miners of Asturias in 1934, the prelude to the Spanish Revolution of 1936.

The media, with a few exceptions, have ignored all the real issues of the conflict concentrating instead on showing pictures of miners with flares and hoods, calling them terrorists and enemies of democracy... the old ultra-right demagogy.

Demonstrations take place every day in Asturias and León and the rest of Spain. On June 12th, there was an impressive march when 2,000 miners rallied in Leon in working clothes, with their helmets on, lamps turned on and surrounded by tens of thousands of followers.

How did we reach this point?

The coal-mining sector (as well as other mining sectors in Spain) has been receiving substantial subsidies from European Funds whose declared purpose was to transform this economically and ecologically untenable sector into clean energy production systems and industries. What actually happened was that the private mine owners used most of these funds to fill their bank accounts.

If the funds from EU stopped right now, the mines would hardly stay open for more than five minutes, since the bosses would not spend one single euro on adapting the industry for the future.

Today, many districts in Asturias, but also in other regions of Spain, depend completely on the mines and their closure would mean to increase the already soaring unemployment levels. The results of such destruction can already be seen; factories deserted, company owners absconding with fresh EU funds, youth unemployment similar to some African countries...

Workers are not to blame for the ineptness of governments and the pure theft of mine owners that have failed to transform the European funds into new productive and clean industries. So, at this point, the miners are simply asking to maintain all jobs and initiate the process to adapt the mining sector where possible, or transfer the workers themselves to new jobs and industrial sectors. What they will not accept is simple closure and nothing but promises of a distant golden future.

Nobody believes anymore the fairy tale of competitiveness and profitability, the Government says that there is no money to keep the jobs, but they will use € 90 billion to avoid some Spanish banks from going bankrupt, precisely the banks led by the cronies of the current Government. There is money for the rich, for the creators of the building bubble, how is this profitable for society?

The Green Debate

There have also been voices, even on the left, reasoning that this shut down of coal mining needs to happen, and the sooner the better, because it essentially a dirty energy source that we need to quit.

That coal is an unsustainable energy source if we are to control climate change is undeniable, but this does not invalidate the just fight that miners are waging for their jobs and the future of their sons and daughters. They are not responsible for the disgraceful mismanagement of funds that could have been used for the transition to clean energy.

We must support the miners' fight while explaining that coal mining can be replaced with jobs and improved conditions of life for the whole communities involved, not liquidated at their expense.

Besides, most of those demanding the shutdown of coal mines are not thinking of a greener and cleaner future. They are imagining the benefits of increasing the share of nuclear power in the national energy mix. Since solar and wind power are still underdeveloped, what else would replace the share of coal but nuclear?
This has been a perfect scam for Spanish big business. First they pocketed the EU funds, then they close the mines and, in future, they will sell more power from their already old and dangerous nuclear plants.

The trade unions and the Left

The role of mass trade unions has also been hesitant, despite the undoubted support of their members for the miners' struggle. The mass left reformist parties United Left (Izquierda Unida) and Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) declare their solidarity with the objectives of the struggle, but urge the miners to wage it in a more "peaceful" way. The entire revolutionary left in Spain support the miners' struggle, at least by joining the demonstrations and publishing declarations on web sites.

This would be an extraordinary opportunity for left groups of the Trotskyists and other tendencies to start working for a common struggle, indeed to create a big revolutionary party that could work in the mass parties, too, to explain and discuss with their honest rank and file members that their leaders are not following the right path - in fact they are following the path of social-liberalism.

At the moment, however, there is still much confusion and sectarianism: the Indignados of 15-M still advocate a mainly non-party orientation - although there are already some cracks in that principle. The PSOE is an internally dead organisation while the United Left is dominated by internal squabbling over participation in local governments with PSOE. In fact, they discuss about who would take such and such official post - while the old guard Stalinists in the main party of United Left, the PCE, are simply against everything.

The way forward

The struggle has received a most important and much appreciated support from the British miners, with the recent establishment of the Committee of Solidarity with the Spanish Miners, which was launched on June 11 in Sheffield by former miners and others who participated in the historic mining strikes of 1984-85 in Britain.

This is something millions should really think about; that workers here are closer to fellow workers in other countries than to the bosses and the rich of their own. We certainly need a Europe-wide response to the Europe-wide offensive of the bosses and the governments to force workers to pay the cost of their crisis whilst bailing themselves out at the cost of working class taxpayers.

The only fair solution would be immediate expropriation of the mines, without compensation to the private owners who, after hearing about the end of subsidies, threatened to cut wages by 70per cent. The bosses have only kept the mines open as long as they have got money from the State, keeping workers in minimum safety conditions and sacking as many as they could get away with.

We need to build a single national mining company that would grant the stability of jobs and initiate immediately the transition to cleaner energy production systems. The nationalisation of strategic sectors (mining, iron industry, electric power, and banking) should be a priority demand for the Spanish trade unions that, at present, are just negotiating the cuts. Workers should manage such national companies so that they are prepared for the future and benefits come back to the whole of society.

Today, miners are in the vanguard of the fight against austerity and unemployment in Spain. In Spain and across Europe we need to go into struggle alongside them.

Long live the Miners Struggle! Long Live International Solidarity!